Our understanding of the genetic mechanisms that underlie biological processes has relied extensively on loss-of-function (LOF) analyses. LOF methods target DNA, RNA or protein to reduce or to ablate gene function. By analysing the phenotypes that are caused by these perturbations the wild-type function of genes can be elucidated. Although all LOF methods reduce gene activity, the choice of approach (for example, mutagenesis, CRISPR-based gene editing, RNA interference, morpholinos or pharmacological inhibition) can have a major effect on phenotypic outcomes. Interpretation of the LOF phenotype must take into account the biological process that is targeted by each method. The practicality and efficiency of LOF methods also vary considerably between model systems. We describe parameters for choosing the optimal combination of method and system, and for interpreting phenotypes within the constraints of each method.
Heterochromatin is enriched for specific epigenetic factors including Heterochromatin Protein 1a (HP1a), and is essential for many organismal functions. To elucidate heterochromatin organization and regulation, we purified Drosophila melanogaster HP1a interactors, and performed a genome-wide RNAi screen to identify genes that impact HP1a levels or localization. The majority of the over four hundred putative HP1a interactors and regulators identified were previously unknown. We found that 13 of 16 tested candidates (83%) are required for gene silencing, providing a substantial increase in the number of identified components that impact heterochromatin properties. Surprisingly, image analysis revealed that although some HP1a interactors and regulators are broadly distributed within the heterochromatin domain, most localize to discrete subdomains that display dynamic localization patterns during the cell cycle. We conclude that heterochromatin composition and architecture is more spatially complex and dynamic than previously suggested, and propose that a network of subdomains regulates diverse heterochromatin functions.
FlyRNAi (http://www.flyrnai.org), the database and website of the Drosophila RNAi Screening Center (DRSC) at Harvard Medical School, serves a dual role, tracking both production of reagents for RNA interference (RNAi) screening in Drosophila cells and RNAi screen results. The database and website is used as a platform for community availability of protocols, tools, and other resources useful to researchers planning, conducting, analyzing or interpreting the results of Drosophila RNAi screens. Based on our own experience and user feedback, we have made several changes. Specifically, we have restructured the database to accommodate new types of reagents; added information about new RNAi libraries and other reagents; updated the user interface and website; and added new tools of use to the Drosophila community and others. Overall, the result is a more useful, flexible and comprehensive website and database.
Store-operated Ca2+ entry is mediated by Ca2+ release-activated Ca2+ (CRAC) channels following Ca2+ release from intracellular stores. We performed a genome-wide RNA interference (RNAi) screen in Drosophila cells to identify proteins that inhibit store-operated Ca2+ influx. A secondary patch-clamp screen identified CRACM1 and CRACM2 (CRAC modulators 1 and 2) as modulators of Drosophila CRAC currents. We characterized the human ortholog of CRACM1, a plasma membrane-resident protein encoded by gene FLJ14466. Although overexpression of CRACM1 did not affect CRAC currents, RNAi-mediated knockdown disrupted its activation. CRACM1 could be the CRAC channel itself, a subunit of it, or a component of the CRAC signaling machinery.
The specificity of RNAi pathways is determined by several classes of small RNAs, which include siRNAs, piRNAs, endo-siRNAs, and microRNAs (miRNAs). These small RNAs are invariably incorporated into large Argonaute (Ago)-containing effector complexes known as RNA-induced silencing complexes (RISCs), which they guide to silencing targets. Both genetic and biochemical strategies have yielded conserved molecular components of small RNA biogenesis and effector machineries. However, given the complexity of these pathways, there are likely to be additional components and regulators that remain to be uncovered. We have undertaken a comparative and comprehensive RNAi screen to identify genes that impact three major Ago-dependent small RNA pathways that operate in Drosophila S2 cells. We identify subsets of candidates that act positively or negatively in siRNA, endo-siRNA, and miRNA pathways. Our studies indicate that many components are shared among all three Argonaute-dependent silencing pathways, though each is also impacted by discrete sets of genes.
The DNA damage checkpoint, the first pathway known to be activated in response to DNA damage, is a mechanism by which the cell cycle is temporarily arrested to allow DNA repair. The checkpoint pathway transmits signals from the sites of DNA damage to the cell cycle machinery through the evolutionarily conserved ATM (ataxia telangiectasia mutated) and ATR (ATM- and Rad3-related) kinase cascades. We conducted a genome-wide RNAi (RNA interference) screen in Drosophila cells to identify previously unknown genes and pathways required for the G₂-M checkpoint induced by DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs). Our large-scale analysis provided a systems-level view of the G₂-M checkpoint and revealed the coordinated actions of particular classes of proteins, which include those involved in DNA repair, DNA replication, cell cycle control, chromatin regulation, and RNA processing. Further, from the screen and in vivo analysis, we identified previously unrecognized roles of two DNA damage response genes, mus101 and mus312. Our results suggest that the DNA replication preinitiation complex, which includes MUS101, and the MUS312-containing nuclease complexes, which are important for DSB repair, also function in the G₂-M checkpoint. Our results provide insight into the diverse mechanisms that link DNA damage and the checkpoint signaling pathway.
Chromatin insulators of higher eukaryotes functionally divide the genome into active and inactive domains. Furthermore, insulators regulate enhancer/promoter communication, which is evident from the Drosophila bithorax locus in which a multitude of regulatory elements control segment specific gene activity. Centrosomal protein 190 (CP190) is targeted to insulators by CTCF or other insulator DNA-binding factors. Chromatin analyses revealed that insulators are characterized by open and nucleosome depleted regions. Here, we wanted to identify chromatin modification and remodelling factors required for an enhancer blocking function. We used the well-studied Fab-8 insulator of the bithorax locus to apply a genome-wide RNAi screen for factors that contribute to the enhancer blocking function of CTCF and CP190. Among 78 genes required for optimal Fab-8 mediated enhancer blocking, all four components of the NURF complex as well as several subunits of the dREAM complex were most evident. Mass spectrometric analyses of CTCF or CP190 bound proteins as well as immune precipitation confirmed NURF and dREAM binding. Both co-localise with most CP190 binding sites in the genome and chromatin immune precipitation showed that CP190 recruits NURF and dREAM. Nucleosome occupancy and histone H3 binding analyses revealed that CP190 mediated NURF binding results in nucleosomal depletion at CP190 binding sites. Thus, we conclude that CP190 binding to CTCF or to other DNA binding insulator factors mediates recruitment of NURF and dREAM. Furthermore, the enhancer blocking function of insulators is associated with nucleosomal depletion and requires NURF and dREAM.
Certain pathogens, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, survive within the hostile intracellular environment of a macrophage. To identify host factors required for mycobacterial entry and survival within macrophages, we performed a genomewide RNA interference screen in Drosophila macrophage-like cells, using Mycobacterium fortuitum. We identified factors required for general phagocytosis, as well as those needed specifically for mycobacterial infection. One specific factor, Peste (Pes), is a CD36 family member required for uptake of mycobacteria, but not Escherichia coli or Staphylococcus aureus. Moreover, mammalian class B scavenger receptors (SRs) conferred uptake of bacteria into nonphagocytic cells, with SR-BI and SR-BII uniquely mediating uptake of M. fortuitum, which suggests a conserved role for class B SRs in pattern recognition and innate immunity.
Apoptosis is an evolutionally conserved cellular suicide mechanism that can be activated in response to a variety of stressful stimuli. Increasing evidence suggests that apoptotic regulation relies on specialized cell death signaling pathways and also integrates diverse signals from additional regulatory circuits, including those of cellular homeostasis. We present a genome-wide RNA interference screen to systematically identify regulators of apoptosis induced by DNA damage in Drosophila melanogaster cells. We identify 47 double- stranded RNA that target a functionally diverse set of genes, including several with a known function in promoting cell death. Further characterization uncovers 10 genes that influence caspase activation upon the removal of Drosophila inhibitor of apoptosis 1. This set includes the Drosophila initiator caspase Dronc and, surprisingly, several metabolic regulators, a candidate tumor suppressor, Charlatan, and an N-acetyltransferase, ARD1. Importantly, several of these genes show functional conservation in regulating apoptosis in mammalian cells. Our data suggest a previously unappreciated fundamental connection between various cellular processes and caspase-dependent cell death.
Protein aggregates are a common pathological feature of most neurodegenerative diseases (NDs). Understanding their formation and regulation will help clarify their controversial roles in disease pathogenesis. To date, there have been few systematic studies of aggregates formation in Drosophila, a model organism that has been applied extensively in modeling NDs and screening for toxicity modifiers. We generated transgenic fly lines that express enhanced-GFP-tagged mutant Huntingtin (Htt) fragments with different lengths of polyglutamine (polyQ) tract and showed that these Htt mutants develop protein aggregates in a polyQ-length- and age-dependent manner in Drosophila. To identify central regulators of protein aggregation, we further generated stable Drosophila cell lines expressing these Htt mutants and also established a cell-based quantitative assay that allows automated measurement of aggregates within cells. We then performed a genomewide RNA interference screen for regulators of mutant Htt aggregation and isolated 126 genes involved in diverse cellular processes. Interestingly, although our screen focused only on mutant Htt aggregation, several of the identified candidates were known previously as toxicity modifiers of NDs. Moreover, modulating the in vivo activity of hsp110 (CG6603) or tra1, two hits from the screen, affects neurodegeneration in a dose-dependent manner in a Drosophila model of Huntington's disease. Thus, other aggregates regulators isolated in our screen may identify additional genes involved in the protein-folding pathway and neurotoxicity.
The androgen receptor (AR) is a mediator of both androgen-dependent and castration-resistant prostate cancers. Identification of cellular factors affecting AR transcriptional activity could in principle yield new targets that reduce AR activity and combat prostate cancer, yet a comprehensive analysis of the genes required for AR-dependent transcriptional activity has not been determined. Using an unbiased genetic approach that takes advantage of the evolutionary conservation of AR signaling, we have conducted a genome-wide RNAi screen in Drosophila cells for genes required for AR transcriptional activity and applied the results to human prostate cancer cells. We identified 45 AR-regulators, which include known pathway components and genes with functions not previously linked to AR regulation, such as HIPK2 (a protein kinase) and MED19 (a subunit of the Mediator complex). Depletion of HIPK2 and MED19 in human prostate cancer cells decreased AR target gene expression and, importantly, reduced the proliferation of androgen-dependent and castration-resistant prostate cancer cells. We also systematically analyzed additional Mediator subunits and uncovered a small subset of Mediator subunits that interpret AR signaling and affect AR-dependent transcription and prostate cancer cell proliferation. Importantly, targeting of HIPK2 by an FDA-approved kinase inhibitor phenocopied the effect of depletion by RNAi and reduced the growth of AR-positive, but not AR-negative, treatment-resistant prostate cancer cells. Thus, our screen has yielded new AR regulators including drugable targets that reduce the proliferation of castration-resistant prostate cancer cells.
BACKGROUND: The diversity of metazoan cell shapes is influenced by the dynamic cytoskeletal network. With the advent of RNA-interference (RNAi) technology, it is now possible to screen systematically for genes controlling specific cell-biological processes, including those required to generate distinct morphologies. RESULTS: We adapted existing RNAi technology in Drosophila cell culture for use in high-throughput screens to enable a comprehensive genetic dissection of cell morphogenesis. To identify genes responsible for the characteristic shape of two morphologically distinct cell lines, we performed RNAi screens in each line with a set of double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) targeting 994 predicted cell shape regulators. Using automated fluorescence microscopy to visualize actin filaments, microtubules and DNA, we detected morphological phenotypes for 160 genes, one-third of which have not been previously characterized in vivo. Genes with similar phenotypes corresponded to known components of pathways controlling cytoskeletal organization and cell shape, leading us to propose similar functions for previously uncharacterized genes. Furthermore, we were able to uncover genes acting within a specific pathway using a co-RNAi screen to identify dsRNA suppressors of a cell shape change induced by Pten dsRNA. CONCLUSIONS: Using RNAi, we identified genes that influence cytoskeletal organization and morphology in two distinct cell types. Some genes exhibited similar RNAi phenotypes in both cell types, while others appeared to have cell-type-specific functions, in part reflecting the different mechanisms used to generate a round or a flat cell morphology.
Receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) signalling through extracellular-signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) has pivotal roles during metazoan development, underlying processes as diverse as fate determination, differentiation, proliferation, survival, migration and growth. Abnormal RTK/ERK signalling has been extensively documented to contribute to developmental disorders and disease, most notably in oncogenic transformation by mutant RTKs or downstream pathway components such as Ras and Raf. Although the core RTK/ERK signalling cassette has been characterized by decades of research using mammalian cell culture and forward genetic screens in model organisms, signal propagation through this pathway is probably regulated by a larger network of moderate, context-specific proteins. The genes encoding these proteins may not have been discovered through traditional screens owing, in particular, to the requirement for visible phenotypes. To obtain a global view of RTK/ERK signalling, we performed an unbiased, RNA interference (RNAi), genome-wide, high-throughput screen in Drosophila cells using a novel, quantitative, cellular assay monitoring ERK activation. Here we show that ERK pathway output integrates a wide array of conserved cellular processes. Further analysis of selected components-in multiple cell types with different RTK ligands and oncogenic stimuli-validates and classifies 331 pathway regulators. The relevance of these genes is highlighted by our isolation of a Ste20-like kinase and a PPM-family phosphatase that seem to regulate RTK/ERK signalling in vivo and in mammalian cells. Novel regulators that modulate specific pathway outputs may be selective targets for drug discovery.
Lipid droplets are ubiquitous triglyceride and sterol ester storage organelles required for energy storage homeostasis and biosynthesis. Although little is known about lipid droplet formation and regulation, it is clear that members of the PAT (perilipin, adipocyte differentiation related protein, tail interacting protein of 47 kDa) protein family coat the droplet surface and mediate interactions with lipases that remobilize the stored lipids. We identified key Drosophila candidate genes for lipid droplet regulation by RNA interference (RNAi) screening with an image segmentation-based optical read-out system, and show that these regulatory functions are conserved in the mouse. Those include the vesicle-mediated Coat Protein Complex I (COPI) transport complex, which is required for limiting lipid storage. We found that COPI components regulate the PAT protein composition at the lipid droplet surface, and promote the association of adipocyte triglyceride lipase (ATGL) with the lipid droplet surface to mediate lipolysis. Two compounds known to inhibit COPI function, Exo1 and Brefeldin A, phenocopy COPI knockdowns. Furthermore, RNAi inhibition of ATGL and simultaneous drug treatment indicate that COPI and ATGL function in the same pathway. These data indicate that the COPI complex is an evolutionarily conserved regulator of lipid homeostasis, and highlight an interaction between vesicle transport systems and lipid droplets.
Although a large number of actin-binding proteins and their regulators have been identified through classical approaches, gaps in our knowledge remain. Here, we used genome-wide RNA interference as a systematic method to define metazoan actin regulators based on visual phenotype. Using comparative screens in cultured Drosophila and human cells, we generated phenotypic profiles for annotated actin regulators together with proteins bearing predicted actin-binding domains. These phenotypic clusters for the known metazoan "actinome" were used to identify putative new core actin regulators, together with a number of genes with conserved but poorly studied roles in the regulation of the actin cytoskeleton, several of which we studied in detail. This work suggests that although our search for new components of the core actin machinery is nearing saturation, regulation at the level of nuclear actin export, RNA splicing, ubiquitination, and other upstream processes remains an important but unexplored frontier of actin biology.